With two home games left in the regular season before the playoffs, we asked nine Miami Heat players and coach Erik Spoelstra on Sunday for their opinions on the league’s Most Valuable Player award, Most Improved Player award, Coach of the Year award and Rookie of the Year award.
Not surprisingly, Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade deferred comment on the MVP award considering their connection to LeBron James, but five others asked about it picked Houston’s James Harden.
Indiana All-Star Victor Oladipo was the overwhelming selection for Most Improved Player with one other eyebrow raising pick by the Heat’s Justise Winslow.
Rookie of the Year came down to Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell in a hotly contested debate with Simmons narrowly edging Mitchell when players decided not to split the award between both Simmons and Mitchell.
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And somewhat surprisingly, Philadelphia’s Brett Brown received the most support for Coach of the Year with four votes from the players although Brad Stevens and Toronto’s Dwane Casey also were given high praise. Spoelstra didn’t pick a Coach of the Year outright, but mentioned his favorites for the award.
▪ Coach: “Do I have to be on record for these? The contenders would be Dwane Casey, Brad [Stevens] out of the East. Toronto has been extremely impressive to be the No. 1 team in the East, the most impressive team all year long. Boston, I don’t think anybody would have predicted this necessarily with all the injuries they’ve dealt with. They’ve found a way to continue to reinvent themselves and stay at the top of the conference. That's as impressive a job as Brad has done in my mind. And he’s done some great coaching job over the years. Over in the West, I think [Utah’s] Quin Snyder has to be in that mix. So, I think both teams responding by losing Gordon Hayward has been very impressive and their defense has been rock solid. They could very well end up with same playoff position they had last year in losing a perrenial All-Star. That says enough in itself.”
▪ Rookie: “I’d split it between Mitchell and Simmons.”
▪ Improved: “Picking Oladipo is pretty fair.”
▪ MVP: “You want me to answer? Not doing it. Leave it in my player vote that is secretive.”
▪ Rookie: “I think we can’t argue against Ben Simmons and what he’s been able to accomplish and what Philly has been able to accomplish. He’s having an amazing year. But it’s a great group of rookies too. Donovan Mitchell is having a great year. Utah is playing good in the Western Conference. So for me those are the top two for sure. I mean Ben is having a helluva year. It’s going to be tough.”
▪ Improved: “Victor Oladipo.”
▪ Coach: “Obviously Dwane Casey has done a great job in Toronto with them taking those steps every year and being first in the East. Brad Stevens has done a great job with Boston, losing Gordon Hayward first game of the season, having Kyrie out with injuries throughout the year and what they’ve done. I think those are the top two.”
▪ MVP: “I have to go with James Harden because his team is the best team in the league right now. He’s playing unbelievable. It’s not only about the numbers, but the results first and then how you make your teammates better. He’s doing that. Not only this year, but last year too.”
▪ Rookie: “Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell. I would give it to Mitchell because he’s got less help than Simmons. Utah is in the No. 4 spot out West. Of course Mitchell has good players around him. But I would say Ben Simmons has a better team around him.”
▪ Improved: “Oladipo. Just how he became a leader. No one even considered Indiana a playoff team this year. He put them on his shoulders. He’s basically balling this year. He’s definitely most improved player.”
▪ Coach: “The coach in Portland. Aren’t they still third? Fourth, you have Utah. Casey, Brad Stevens, those four guys, it’s tough to pick one of those four guys.”
▪ MVP: “Harden. He’s taken his team to the best record in the league and the things you’ve seen him do on the court you don’t see that very often. LeBron is not far off at all. He’s right there.”
▪ Rookie: “Simmons. The way he controls the game as a rookie and his pace and how effective he’s brought himself to be is crazy. Obviously one of the best rookies in a long time.”
▪ Improved: “Oladipo. Just self explanatory. I did not think [the Pacers] would be like this at all. Coach over there has a done a good job. They’re playing well, playing hard and they know who they are.”
▪ Coach: “I think Brad Stevens did a great job with Boston. [Nate] McMillan on the Pacers is right there.”
▪ MVP: “LeBron. He could get it every year. It’s just voter fatigue. I mean you could also give it to James Harden just because of their record, having the No. 1 record overall. I mean he’s had a great year offensively. I just think Bron because he’s at the top of the league on both ends of the court. Whatever age, he’s averaging a damn near triple-double on the court. It’s hard not to give it to him. Just because of the amount of attention he demands day in and day out and how smart of a player he is. I can’t see why he wouldn’t get it.”
▪ Rookie: “I can’t pick between Mitchell and Simmons. Donovan Mitchell is the key guy on the No. 4 team in the West, which is a frenzy right now. And Ben Simmons is leading the No. 3 team in the East averaging a damn near triple-double. It’s hard to differentiate the two. They’re different-type players, but they’re both good at what they do.”
▪ Improved: “Victor Oladipo for sure. Just where he was at last year, it’s not that he wasn’t already a really good player. I just don’t think he was utilized last year. He showed what he was able to do with a little bit more freedom.”
▪ Coach: “I think if anybody, Brett Brown. To take what was the laughingstock of basketball, it was a joke really how people viewed the Philadelphia 76ers the last couple years with everything going on and how it felt like every year they were tanking to get the No. 1 pick. What he’s been able to do the last couple years and endure the criticism and winning like 18, 19 games throughout the year to being the No. 3 team in the East, that’s impressive.”
▪ MVP: “James Harden. He’s the best player on the best team in the league.”
▪ Rookie: “Ben Simmons. I think he’s pretty much been the steady rock on that team the whole season. Joel [Embiid] has been an All-Star, but Ben’s ability to make others around him better and really control the game, he has that gift to be able to control a game, just that presence on the floor. But I mean Donovan [Mitchell] is right up there to be able to take that team from 18-29 to the fourth seed. It’s close, but I like the versaility on both ends of the floor Ben has been able to show.”
▪ Improved: “I’d go with [Orlando’s] Aaron Gordon. I think we’ve seen glimpses of Oladipo do this in the past. We just haven’t seen it for long stretches of the season, but seen glimpses of it. With the main guys out, being able to carry the team and go from a second option to first option, he’s done it. But Aaron has really taken a leap as far as responsibility and really leading that team this year.”
▪ Coach: “Brad Stevens, especially of late dealing with a lot of injuries, losing their best player in the first game of the season, being able to keep that team afloat. It’s been impressive.”
▪ MVP: “I’ll give it to Harden. Just what Houston has done so far this season, their record. Obviously, he’s playing unbelievable, first and foremost. I think he deserves it. There are other guys at the top with him, but I like to look at the record and I’ll go with their most important player as the most valuable player because your team has the best record. That gives you the most value.”’
▪ Coach: “I’ll give it to Philly’s coach [Brett Brown]. I think he’s done an unbelievable job with those guys. Obviously, from where they were last year to where they are this year, they’ve made a great leap.”
▪ Rookie: “I’ll give it to Donovan Mitchell. I like him a lot. I like his game a lot. Just the way he’s evolved throughout the season and continues to get better and better. He’s a really good player. I think he had a really bright future.”
▪ Improved: “Victor Oladipo. He’s taken a big leap. Obviously, being an All-Star this year, where his team is, as well. His team is doing really well. He’s done a great job.”
▪ MVP: “That’s a rough one. It’s been three guys. Russell [Westbrook] is still averaging a triple-double (close to it actually). James Harden is the first player to have a 60-point triple-double and LBJ is doing his triple-double stuff and he’s 33. That’s a three-way tie. I don’t know.”
▪ Rookie: “Donovan Mitchell. He’s done so much stuff for their team. At one point they won like 17 of 18 or something like that. He’s the first rookie to ever do that. He’s the anchor of their offense. With all due respect, he’s had multiple 30-point, 40-point games, just off the chart scoring. To come from some place like Louisville where some people would say he wouldn’t make it, his back story, I feel like he deserves it.”
▪ MVP: “It’s between James [Harden] and LeBron. It’s tough. I’m going to have to go with co-MVPs. That’s how good of a race it is this year with the years and the stats that these guys have this year. You got to go co. That’s how I feel.”
▪ Coach of the Year: “I like the Philly coach [Brett Brown]. The improvement they made. They are top five in the East. That’s pretty impressive.”
▪ Improved: “Victor Oladipo. Clear-cut.”
▪ Rookie: “Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons. I feel like you got to go co-Rookie of the Year winners. You could argue for both. It’s tough.”
▪ MVP: “Harden. Just the work he’s putting in. He’s leading the team and they have the best record in the league. He’s the best player on that team and the numbers he’s been putting up, he’s been leading them.”
▪ Coach: “Brett Brown. You look at the improvement record-wise that Philly made from last year to this year, so you got to say him.”
▪ Rookie: “Is Ben Simmons still a rookie? I would say Ben Simmons probably.”
▪ Improved: “Vic. He’s shown that he can lead a team to the playoffs. It’s not easy going into a role where you’re thrust to be the leader and the face, and to be able to lead the team to the playoffs. So you got to give him credit for that.”